Ignoring this one detail could destroy your business.

There are several things that can kill your brand, business, product such as poor inventory control, bad employee management, low profit margins, but none of them will kill your business faster than this one thing. Corporations pour hundreds of thousands into perfecting it while small businesses tend to scratch their heads and wonder why people aren’t buying their products or services.

So what is this elusive key to the puzzle?

Identity.

Nothing will kill a business faster than a poor identity.

Lets look at a few examples of how this has happened to the “big guys” and how it can happen to you:

Tropicana 2009

Tropicana packaging, Old and New

In 2009 PepsiCo decided to rebrand their product Tropicana. Peter Arnell (CEO of Arnell group, who did the branding) told press they wanted to focus more on the actual product, as opposed to what the product’s origin, so instead of using the straw in the orange they switched to a large glass of orange juice. They kept the orange but made it more subtle by using the bottle cap to represent an orange.

The result? A disaster of epic proportions! Tropicana sales plummeted 20% over the next two months. Loyal customers to Tropicana were outraged that they couldn’t quickly locate their favorite orange juice in the store. The response was so strong that PepsiCo was forced to recall the entire line and switch the packaging back.

What was wrong with the new design? Well, by itself, not really much. It has a good rhythm and gives a sense of classy and modern orange juice (Though the latter isn’t exactly what I want my orange juice to taste like! Minimalist orange juice sounds terrible.). It starts to look a bit generic when on the shelf next to other brands of orange juice.

The big problem arose with the major departure from the old packaging. When you walk down an isle looking for that one brand of whatever product you love how long does it generally take you to find it? I’m guessing about 3-5 seconds. You get used to seeing the packaging and being able to quickly pick it out of the crowd because that is your brand. Now imagine walking down the same aisle and looking for the same brand except now everything about it has changed, the color is slightly different, the typography is drastically changed, and the iconic imagery associated with the brand is gone. How long would it take you to find it?  Probably around 20-30 seconds, you might not even bother to find it because those 20-30 seconds could seem like an eternity and just resort to buying another brand of orange juice.

Are you starting to see how this works? Tropicana has been around for nearly half a century and consumers have grown to know its iconic packaging. The new identity completely ignored this history. They weren’t thinking about the consumer and how the consumer is viewing the product. Rebranding is not a bad idea, but it has to be done very carefully, especially if the brand is well established and it has to be done with the consumer’s decision-making process in mind.

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London 2012

Winter Olympics

A very recent example of how identity can destroy your business is the identity for London’s 2012 Olympic games. The logo was presented to the public in June and within 48 hours the $800,000 logo was hail as a “gigantic waste of money” or “failing to capture the british spirit” and demanding a replacement (ABC News).

This is what chairman Seb Coe says about the logo:

[testimonial name="Seb Cob" company="Chairman"]This is the vision at the very heart of our brand. It will define the venues we build and the Games we hold and act as a reminder of our promise to use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people around the world. It is an invitation to take part and be involved. We will host a Games where everyone is invited to join in because they are inspired by the Games to either take part in the many sports, cultural, educational and community events leading up to 2012 or they will be inspired to achieve personal goals. [/testimonial]

Well, alight, Seb… well this poll says that 80% of the people will not be inspired by this identity to join in the Olympics.

Alex Balfour, head of new media for London 2012 spoke against the opposition saying it was the,

[testimonial name="Alex Balfour"]Biggest branding projects this decade. Most of all, this is a brand to live up to which will force us to deliver [the] Games in a way which no other host city has ever done — not a comfortable blazer badge with ‘endearing’ qualities or cute London skylines, but a big statement of intent.[/testimonial]

Now it’s a possibility that this may be true, that eventually everyone will recognize the style into the mainstream but the overwhelming negative response to the identity is undeniable. Maybe the whole concept doesn’t need to be scrapped but something needs to be done to make it more acceptable to the general public. We are talking about the olympics here, not a niche market website to motocross riders or snowboarders. There are ways to creating an identity that introduces a youthfulness and preserves the history and elegance of the olympics. For $800,000 I would hope that the designers could spend a small amount of time brainstorming how to accomplish those two things.

The true test will be the actual event. Time is the ultimate test of an identity. Maybe trends will swing in favor of this zany logo design and it will be everything London is hoping for.

I hope it’s clear now how ignoring your identity can drastically affect every aspect of your business. There aren’t many things more important than creating and preserving a great identity for your business, brand or product. Don’t let the little details of identity slip by you.

What are your experiences with bad brand identity? Join the conversation by dropping a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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